In this day and age, ramen is a widely available and beloved delicacy all over the world. But if you ever saw the delicate finesse that goes into preparing these handmade wheat noodles, you may consume your next bowl with more reverence. For Hiroyuki Yahagi, it is precisely this kind of sentiment that guided him towards a longstanding culinary career culminating in his current standing as Head Chef of Pavilion’s popular ramen hangout, Kyo-ei Tokyo Ramen.
Even as a child, this Yokohama native was fascinated by the flavours and artistry involved in authentic ramen-making, which was already a well-liked dish among the Japanese. As the years went by, he immersed himself in meticulous study, observation and honing his craft under the tutelage of experts. Nearly twenty years later, Chef Hiro as he is fondly regarded by his employees has transformed into a consummate ramen professional. Having moved to Malaysia in November of 2012 to start up Kyo-ei Tokyo Ramen, these are definitely interesting times.
“Japan and Malaysia have strong ties, so coming here to work has been a fascinating and positive experience so far,” Chef Hiro notes. “Malaysians are a very interesting group of people, and of course the food here is incredible—I love nasi lemak!”
For many chefs, moving to a new country involves the challenge of adjusting to the local customers’ palates and appetites. “In Japan, ramen eateries serve ramen and nothing else. But Malaysians prefer variety, so when we first opened, a lot of thought went into considering what they would like to see on the menu. This is why we offer many varieties of ramen on our menu, with more being planned for the future. Also, the Japanese like the broth in their ramen much saltier, whereas here in Malaysia we have to adjust it to make it less so.”
Challenges aside, the payoff speaks for itself—the restaurant is consistently packed during lunch hours and well into the evening. Under Chef Hiro’s supervision, customers can expect service with genuine heart. “For me, cooking as a process doesn’t begin and end in the kitchen. When I serve a hot, freshly prepared bowl of ramen to a customer and I see the way they smile before they eat, I feel happy. Cooking is very much about connecting with people through quality food.”
For now, Chef Hiro is ever busy evolving his restaurant’s menu to reach greater heights, though he has his eye set on opening another business locally given the time and opportunity. No matter what his next step is, it is what goes into the first step that he places great emphasis upon: “If you decide to take up cooking as a career, recognise it not as a job but as a way of life. With that comes the passion and commitment that will take you far.”
Kyo-ei Tokyo Ramen
Lot 6-01-01, Level 6,
Pavilion KL, 168, Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL